(My first teacher tribute…)
When Alex was a baby, he received a stuffed Tigger toy which became his favorite thing ever. He would take it everywhere with him, to school, to sleep, to the park, to the tub… Anywhere he went, Tigger went too. Alex’s dad always said “You’re a good friend to that Tigger. He may not be able to talk or tell you what he wants, but you take him everywhere and include him, and that’s what good friends do.”
Just before Alex began kindergarten, poor tattered Tigger was so worn out that I scoured ebay to find another. Somehow, I had missed that new parent rule that says buy two of the “lovie” and interchange them periodically so they both get the same wear & tear but you always have a spare in case one gets lost. Luckily, I did find another exact match and we presented both to Alex on his 6th birthday. I put them together in a basket on the birthday table and said “Look! Tigger has a friend.” Alex looked them both over and smiled big, but then didn’t pay them too much more attention. The next time Alex left the room, I offered him his Tigger to take along, but he politely put him back in the basket. Since Tigger now had a friend, Alex was confident Tigger would be okay and could handle life on his own.
Tigger was Alex’s best buddy. And what was important to Alex was also important to his home ABA teacher Steph. Steph remembered Tigger when he strayed from sight, she helped me fix Tigger when he got ripped, she cleaned him up countless times so Alex could snuggle with him each night. And one very memorable day, Steph rescued Tigger from his biggest adventure.
A natural athlete, Steph had energy enough to chase my boy around school, around home, around the neighborhood. I learned last summer that Alex is what is affectionately referred to as “a runner” in special needs teacher circles. And yes, that means exactly what you think. When we dropped Alex off at his first overnight camp, we were greeted by a very enthusiastic young counselor named Megan who promptly bonded with Alex and away they went. When we came back a week later to pick him up, a different but equally enthusiastic counselor greeted us. “Where’s Megan?” I asked. With a big grin and a perky, matter-of-fact sweetness to her voice, the new counselor said, “Oh, she had a runner last week and she was a little tired. So we switched.” Now picture a mischievous, thrill-seeking, mostly non-verbal kid who is “a runner” and then try to imagine what kind of teacher could keep up with him. Yup, Steph was pretty amazing.
One afternoon, Steph and Alex trekked down to the local park with Tigger to run around the jungle gym and play on the banks of the stream. Alex liked to throw rocks in the water and watch the ripples. It was a pretty routine day, with one exception. When Steph and Alex came back from the park, Alex was his usual dirt-covered energetic self, but Steph and Tigger were both soaking wet. Steph grinned as she explained, “Tigger decided to take a swim- and so did I!”
The mental image of Alex gleefully hurling Tigger through the air to see where he would land made me laugh out loud. I could almost hear the splash. But after I laughed, the reality of the story hit me and I almost cried. Steph had dived right into that stream– that cold, muddy, is-this-really-a-good-idea? stream– to save my son’s “lovie” and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
When I think about the many teachers Alex has had, and how several of them have become part of our family, this story always comes to mind. To believe in my child, to be right there in his world, to respect his ideas even when he can’t say them with words, to be a steadfast friend to someone so many people don’t understand, to persistently work to put the puzzle pieces together to know what is important to him and to protect it– to rescue Tigger!!– well, that in my book is the ultimate gift of dedication.
Thank you Steph for all of that, I will always be grateful for you. xoxo